Monthly Archives: February 2012
Since joining twitter, I’ve been brought to an ENTIRELY different level of agriculture conversation. I think I may actually be so overloaded with information that I can’t form a clear thought. There is…a lot…to think about. And of course, just like anything, you could drown your whole life on just this one topic. But that’s not really my style. So for now…I will just think. And think and think. Much like Pooh Bear, I suspect. Maybe I’ll find some beekeepers to provide me some thinking hunny…
In the meantime, I’ll share this scene from 2 weekends back in my front yard at sunrise (because yes, I still wake up at sunrise without an alarm clock)
Something about the snow and the blanket of quiet really helps me think, so mentally I’m going to revisit this scene (even as its 70 and raining out now). The weather here in VA has been pretty remarkable. I find it funny to talk about the weather as a city slicker. I mean really, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference now that I’m back to working an inside job. Besides needing an umbrella, or complaining about the fact that I straightened my hair this morning and now it’s poofing past my shoulders, or how if I forget my contact lenses it’s a royal pain to see through glasses with raindrops on them, rain is really only an inconvenience to me for about 15 total minutes a day. It’s become sorta common to use the phrase ‘to talk about the weather’ as some sort of gap-filler…when there is no other common ground. I find this funny because while working in Ag, and specifically on the feedlot, I began to realize talking about the weather really isn’t unimportant. It dictates your WHOLE day. Everything from how exhausted you will be, how you will dress (I mean, more than sporting a little raincoat or packing along an umbrella), how many cattle will be sick, how easily (or not) they will move from their huddle. And among Agriculturalists, I think talking about the weather is really quite a bonding experience. And, I’d also like to somewhat randomly add that I believe farmers to be the most accurate weather forecasters of all. Perhaps the meteorology schools could intern on a farm?
You would think working in the beef community would make me a pro in the grocery store. You’d be surpised…
Being a (fairly recent) college student, most of my meat supply has been the lowest end. Think large bags of chicken parts from Walmart and those 10 lb rolls of hamburger meat. The hamburger meat really seems to get my Dad, who seemed horrified that the packaging allows absolutely no visual inspection before purchase. But hey, buying in bulk, and buying blindly, is the only way I’d get it!
I’m not a great cook. Mostly I make things like hamburger helper, or bake chicken that I pour some salad dressing on 30 seconds before placing in the oven. I might make a veggie for the side. But I really enjoy nice food. Steaks. Balanced healthy meals with real substance that didn’t come out of the microwave. And in the spirit of Heart Healthy Month (And I heart Beef Month), I figured it was time to get more familiar with my food to make sure that the way I eat my red meat is actually healthy, instead of drenching it in over-processed powder-to-liquid foods that battle all the nutritious merit beef has to offer.
So I ventured to Kroger’s meat counter this week, and thought it would be fitting for me to write about it, in case there are others out there equally terrified of having to communicate their cooking intentions to a stranger in a hairnet without going full detail into a recipe.
I did, however, go in with a recipe. This one & this one, to be exact. I made a little grocery list of all the items I didn’t have, which included a tri-tip roast (never heard of it) and beef tenderloin steak.
First I just went to the meat section, hoping to avoid an ackward encounter with a person who would soon find out I had no idea what I really wanted him to do. Plus, I figured it would be cheaper to find the cuts without the guy having to slice it. I found beef tenderloin steaks for $24. Waaaaaaaay more than I have ever EVER spent on an entire shopping trip on meat alone. But I figure what the hell, it’s just me and I can easily get about 8 meals out of this package.
No tri-tip to be found. I spent an unusually long amount of time looking through all the t-bones & ground beef trying desperately to have a label jump out with TRI TIP written all over it. But somehow I feel that all the grocery stores I ever go to never word the cut of meat exactly as a recipe calls for it. Is that just me??
Next I went to the meat counter. No sign for tri-tip. But now I sort of had to say something to the guy behind the counter. I asked him. He told me to check the regular meat area. So I did again. Just as thoroughly. I went back and just picked something that had ‘tip’ in the name: Beef Round Tip Steak. Now I know, round circles and triangles are not related, so these cuts probably aren’t either. Give me a break, it was either that or filet mignon. I asked for 3 lbs, an entirely unscientifically thought out number. I got 2.8 lbs for about $8.50. I even got brave & asked him to slice it into 1/2 inch thick slices so I could go home and freeze individual amounts. I got about 9 steaks out of it. For $8.50. Now we’re talking!! I’ll be visiting the guy at the counter much more frequently. Turns out he doesn’t laugh at you for being entirely clueless, which is an added bonus to the economic factor.
The whole ordeal probably took about 25 minutes. I’m sure you could survive on more like 5, but I get unnaturally shy & slow about things that I don’t know and feel should be very self explanatory. Especially in the case that I work with meat animals, you’d think I’d know how to eat it more knowledgeably. Oddly, the cows don’t walk around with the cuts of beef written on them, so alas, I’m clueless.
Beef: It’s what’s for dinner has an incredibly helpful website (I’m only just now realizing how helpful!). I encourage you to check it out. I plan to explore it further and use it to become a little more educated so I can make grocery shopping a little less stressful & a little more time efficient.
What’s your experience in the grocery store? Do you feel clueless at the meat counter, or are you knowledgeable enough to venture out of your normal 2 cuts of meat? Feel free to share any fun stories or insights, I could use the advice to help me in the kitchen!
What if it is really agriculture that is setting the tone for our negative press?
I have been thinking a lot lately about how Agriculture is perceived. I have joined Twitter, something I never thought I’d do, but I must admit it has really helped me re-vamp my desire to blog about my passion. Twitter has also made me very aware of how many groups are out there throwing around those buzz words “Factory Farms” “industrial food” and now even “Real food” which seems to think that conventionally raised food does not qualify. All of these phrases immediately conjure up negativity, fear, and even a bit of mystery.
It is proven that people fear the unknown. It is far more likely for people to fear a certain race of people, blacks for example, if they have few interactions with people of that race. It is common for people to fear pitbulls until they come to know one. So, reasonably, people seem to fear what farmers are really doing out there on those large stretches of land, all alone, raising something that will end up on their plate. Blacks make up 12.6% of America, according to the US Census Bureau, and an estimated 8 million Pitbulls in America. At a meek 2% of the population, we really can’t expect Americans to venture out of the metropolis and suburbia and knock on one of our doors and ask to see how we live to see if their fears are well-founded. And when we are self-proclaiming food “producers” of the beef (pork, poultry, etc) “industry”, I’m pretty sure we are further contributing to the notion that we operate as some sort of machine instead of as compassionate human beings.
Bear with me as I take you down a somewhat tedious road. I think this is a topic worth the scrutiny.
Let’s break down how “food producer” might be interpreted by someone on the outside. Dictionary.com provides us with 5 definitions for the verb “produce”
- 1. to bring into existence. I wouldn’t really say we bring cattle into existence. Or bring meat into existence. Although if you use this definition, it would line up with some accusations that people in food production add things like “pink slime” and ammonia into meat, and THAT produce would definitely be something brought into existence by a human. Not very accurate to what we do.
- 2. to bring into existence by creative or intellectual ability. Similar to definition 1.
- 3. to make or manufacture. I don’t manufacture meat, and I certainly don’t want to be known as a meat manufacturer. Do you?
- 4. to bring forth; give birth. Well, I don’t even need to explain why this definition doesn’t make me a food producer.
- 5. to provide, furnish, or supply. Ahhh. Now this, this one fits. We definitely provide meat & other food products for Americans.
Okay, so we found a successful definition! But look how many definitions I had to look past in order to find one that maintained a positive mental image. The general public will NOT take any extra effort to prove our innocence or positive impact on the world.
Now, let’s brave the term “industry”
- 1. the aggregate of manufacturing or technically productive enterprises in a particular field, often named after its principle product such as the automobile industry or steel industry. Not a terrible definition I suppose. It utilizes the word “produce” which leaves lots of room for negativity in itself, but it’s really the examples that make me weary. Automobile and steel industry creates a feel of cold & factory-like business. Not a great parallel for the hard work, dedication, and love we put into our herds & flocks.
- 2. any general business activity; commercial enterprise. It is true that agriculture is a business like most everything these days. But everyone knows that businesses have one goal above all else: profit. And we know that more and more businesses in this country are putting aside ethics and morals to pick a more profitable decision. While we need to make a living from raising livestock, we do not have the option of picking profit as our sole goal. We also must incorporate ethical treatment & care.
- 3. systematic work or labor. Again, agriculture is a business, and we need systems in place to keep things organized. But something about the phrasing still gives room for the interpretation of a factory-like, robotic, thoughtless process.
I’m thinking it’s time for the people of Agriculture to start coining their own (accurate!) buzz words, in order to hold our own & be able to dis-spell misconceptions without even having to launch into a defensive paragraph. I don’t think it will be a single solution, but I do think it is something incredibly easy to overlook, yet so very important. Every word we use to describe agriculture is carefully weighed by concerned foodies. So let’s just give it chance. I’ll start:
I am a food provider of the beef community.
Provide has very similar definitions to produce (to supply, make available). But while I do not want many things to be “produced” for me, I do think it sounds quite nice to be provided for. It gives me the warm & fuzzy feeling of security. And this case, I am feeling very confident & secure that I will not go hungry because of you, the food provider.
Community. A VERY different word than industry. It is a very disarming term, and among the best of dictionary.com’s definitions is as follows:
“an … occupational, or other group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists”
Now that seems accurate to me. As agriculturalists, we all share a slew of common characteristics and interests. And we are definitely distinct, in our 2%, from the larger society (the nation as a whole) in which we exist.
Community also creates an image of “kumbaya”…of teamwork & encouragement. In the case of the beef community, there are MANY compartments (seedstock, cow/calf, feedlot, packer) that need to work together as a team to provide the end product of safe & nutritious meat.
I know, I know, I’m asking for a lot. It will take a significant amount of effort to change your habits of using terms we’ve used for a long time to describe ourselves. And it will take even longer for our new terms to reach the ears of skeptics and consumers. But hopefully I have convinced you that this is worth our consideration. “Say what you mean and mean what you say” is a very popular quote among our culture. And FINALLY, I feel that I really mean what I say, without having to give further description, when I tell you I provide food for you from within the beef community.
What do you think? Do you think something so simple and fundamental (two words!!) can really help us change our negative image? Are there other terms we use daily that may be interpreted inaccurately by someone who doesn’t have an understanding of what we actually mean?